National Archives’ Role in a Presidential Transition

Every four years, when it is a Presidential election year, the National Archives and Records Administration readies itself for one of its lesser-known duties: preparing for a Presidential transition. NARA is one of a handful of agencies that are designated as having special transition responsibilities because of our government-wide responsibilities relating to Presidential and Federal records. Here are some of the ways NARA is preparing for the transition:

Prior to each Presidential election, all federal agencies are required to prepare briefing materials that explain who they are as an agency, what they do, and why it matters. NARA is prepared to provide our transition briefing materials to the President-Elect’s Transition Team (PETT) and assist with their preparations as they conduct their transition planning.

We will transfer hundreds of millions of textual, electronic, and audiovisual records as well as thousands of Presidential gifts from the White House to NARA over the next two months. The National Archives takes legal custody of this material on January 20, 2021, and at that time we will assume responsibility for the materials of a 15th Presidential administration.

NARA has been working with federal agencies, transition councils, and advocacy organizations to ensure that both incoming and outgoing political appointees are informed of their records management responsibilities and are preserving their records appropriately. NARA is a permanent member of the Agency Transition Directors Council, from which we have provided information directly to agencies as they prepare for transition. The Office of the Chief Records Officer has recently highlighted some of NARA’s records and information management resources for transition on the Records Express blog. I will be sending a memorandum to the heads of executive branch departments and agencies to stress the importance of sound records management practices during the transition.

The peaceful transition of power and knowledge from one Presidential administration to another is a cornerstone of American democracy. Yet even as we progress through that transition, our mission, our vision, and our values remain unchanged. We will continue to do our best work on behalf of the American public and the records that future historians will turn to in understanding our era’s events. I remain grateful to each of the employees of the National Archives for the work they do each and every day on behalf of our agency.

3 thoughts on “National Archives’ Role in a Presidential Transition

  1. This is a reassuring summary of democracy in action and the peaceful transfer not only of power but also of knowledge.

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